Restaurant review: First look at Blackbyrd Warehouse

Blackbyrd Warehouse, the most recent venture from Eric Hilton (of Thievery Corporation) and his brother Ian, gets my seal of approval.  The Hilton brothers also own Marvin, Gibson, American Ice Company, and Eighteenth Street Lounge.   Man, I really hope they make it one day.  Poor guys . . .
Blackbyrd is housed in the long and narrow, two-story building next to Marvin.  As you walk in, what was once the former exterior wall of Marvin is decorated by funky posters including the now famous Obama campaign poster by well-known graffiti artist Shepard Fairey. Blackbyrd, like Marvin, is inspired by DC history.  It gets its name from the R&B group, The Blackbyrds, which was formed in DC in the early 1970s by Howard University professor Donald Byrd.  Apparently, Byrd recruited some of his students to be in the group.  And so, kids, that concludes today’s history lesson.  Now we return to my favorite topic and what you’re hoping I will finally write about: food.
But before I get to that, I realize I’ve been spending a lot of time on 14th Street NW.  If you’ve read my last few posts, you already know that.  I can’t help it!  That street, especially between P and V, has been blowing up with new places to try.  In only the past few months, we’ve seen the opening of El Centro, Lost Society, Standard, and now Blackbyrd Warehouse.  In the next year, that same stretch of 14th Street will become home to Matchbox’s newest location and word is that Ted’s Bulletin is checking out space in the area too.

 

I think Blackbyrd can hold its own against the growing competition because it fills a void not only in the U Street area but in DC generally.  What initially drew me to Blackbyrd, other than my need to eat every few hours, was the raw bar.  It’s hard to find a good raw bar in town without feeling like you’re part of the corporate cog as you’re getting your raw bar fix at one of several seafood or steakhouse chain restaurants in town.  Blackbyrd definitely hits the spot.  I also love a deal so their $1 oyster happy hour rocks.  They have a pretty good selection of oysters, although I do wish they’d feature more West Coast oysters — my preferred Coast for oysters.

 

I’m going to refrain from recommending certain oysters over others because I’ve found that oysters really are a matter of personal preference more than any other food.*  I will, however, offer up my personal faves.  You are free to try or not try them and/or hate or love them.  Of course, I am free to judge you negatively if you try and hate them.  Kidding ( . . . maybe).  Of the ones I tried, my West Coast favorites were Effingham and Kumamoto.  On the East Coast side, I enjoyed the Raspberry Point and Wellfleet.

 

*Note:  In fact, my good friend Triple X (remember, that’s not his real name) made this very statement when we met up at Blackbyrd last week.  Because I know he will try to take credit for that line, let me set the record straight: I had already written that line down in an earlier draft of this review.  So there, Mr. X.

 

In addition to the oysters, friends (“Fancypants” and — new to Forking DC fame — “Lady Red”) and I loved the spinach and crab dip, which came with what looked like over-sized pita chips.  The dip did not skimp on the crab — always a good thing since I hate when places call something a crab dip when it really should be called “essence of crab” dip.  We also liked the smoked trout rillettes, served with its own carb-delivery vehicle.  In simple terms, rillettes is meat or fish that has been transformed into a pate or spreadable paste by adding a hefty amount of salt and slow-cooking the protein in fat and other goodness.  Don’t be alarmed or grossed out.  When done well, rillettes is tasty and a perfect food to snack on while enjoying a glass of wine.  Blackbyrd does a really nice job with its version, topped with fish roe.  It’s salty, creamy, and rich.  On a prior visit, I tried the lobster roll.  It came with a generous serving of lobster on a nice buttery roll.  These are both hallmarks of a good lobster roll.  The problem was that I found the lobster to be a bit under-seasoned.

I’ve only been to Blackbyrd during the week or before 10pm on Friday.  I can’t speak to the late-night vibe and crowd.  If it’s anything similar to its neighboring bar/restaurants, it’ll probably get very crowded, very quickly.  Keeping that in mind, here are some parting thoughts about Blackbyrd.

 

Best for: Raw bar. Raw bar. Raw bar.  Grab a drink and a few items to snack on with friends during the week.
Noise level: Pretty high even on a weeknight.  The industrial look doesn’t lend itself very well to noise reduction.
Vibe: Chill, low-key, casual during the week.  I like the contrast between the industrial look, the funky art, and the kinda hipster, inked, Betty Page meets Kat von D (and the male-equivalent) look of the bartenders and waiters.

Blackbyrd on Urbanspoon

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